by Jean Berrett

The walls had always hung heavy with pictures, gilt‑framed, dark and dimming, holding fiercely onto what was already lost. Old pictures of Baltimore, the streets of cobblestone and white scrubbed concrete steps in front of the row houses like nuns waiting for supper.

In some of the photos, the people stood tall in front of cardboard cutouts of mountains and lakes, infinite shades of gray. The women in corsets that propped their bosoms high up under their collarbones and the men in wide lapels with hats tipped at a devil‑may‑care angle. The photographed children looked unhappy, smiles forced over frowns or whimpers, little girls in dresses flounced and laced, row upon row, and little boys standing straight as infantry.

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My Precious Stuff

by Joesph O’Day

Inside a bureau drawer in my parents’ dining room, there’s a grayed envelope filled with old pictures. I take it in hand and wonder if I should do a quick flip-through, a close inspection, or store it for later. Maybe I should just throw it out, since I’m already overloaded with photos.

I’ve taken this August week off from work to clear my mother’s house and prepare it  for sale. Since Dad’s death twenty years ago, Mom has lived alone in this large two-family, until the need for permanent nursing home care forced her to leave. At this moment, this first day of cleanout, the house’s sole occupants are seven decades worth of stuff, a testament to my family’s distaste for letting things go.

I inspect the envelope. Hidden beneath familiar prints are five 2 x 3 color photos, a family series—my mother and father, and Dad’s mother, father, sister and brother. They’re dressed formally, perhaps having been to church or a wedding. The day is sunny and dry, the background, the Salem Willows. My favorite is of Dad and Mom together. Dad’s in suit and tie, his arm around her waist. Mom’s in high heels and yellow dress, nestled into his side. They smile broadly. The date stamped on back is 1946. A year prior, my father had completed his World War II tour as an Army Medic. They’ll marry in three years, have my sister and me in eight. Mom told me how shy my father was when they dated. He was exactly what she wanted, a gentleman, quiet and mild-mannered, not savvy with women, physically strong and courageous. And a non-drinker; she’d witnessed enough alcoholism in her young life to want alcohol out completely. It’s a beautiful photo, something I’ll always treasure. 

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Fragile Landscapes

by Gillian Haines

“The war made us all sick fucks.” Wulf rubbed his shaven head and revealed a shrapnel wound that skipped and puckered along the pale underside of his right arm. “I’m glad it’s starting to come out. You should check out the articles I’ve been reading. One in Men’s Health describes this soldier in Iraq. He zeros in on this kid just as the kid takes aim to kill him.” Wulf’s freckled hands grasped a phantom M16 and he mimed looking through the sights. “The soldier doesn’t miss, the kid dies, and the soldier ejaculates. He’s horrified. Ashamed. But later, he can’t climax without that image.”

Wulf dropped his voice to a tired whisper. “It’s not just that. There’s two things going on. National Geographic says soldiers are brain-damaged by their training even before they get to war. Every time something goes off, you lose something. You can feel it!” he said, placing his hands on his ribs. “Those I.E.D. blasts! After every battle, blood comes out your ears, nose, and throat. How can we not be fucked up?”

He looked at me without blinking for a long time, and I nodded. He’d been issued prison coveralls too small for his bulging thighs.

“I’ll read them,” I promised.

Eight years ago, when I first volunteered to visit four inmates, I wasn’t sure why I felt such a tremendous pull toward confined men when I was already giving too much to a husband who was trapped in a different type of ruin. I didn’t think it was because I grew up in a country founded by convicts, or even because the government had hung my great uncle for setting fire to a hayrick. Only now can I admit that suffering had isolated me and I thought I could understand the loneliness of prison.

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